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VIKINGS' GREEN SAYS HIS TEAM'S IN HUNT.

Byline: Lee Shappell Arizona Republic

There is every reason for Dennis Green to see red, yet the embattled Minnesota Vikings coach is maintaining an even keel through a rocky year. At least on the surface.

Last summer, Green defended a lawsuit stemming from an extra-marital affair. Twin Cities talk shows spent the summer ripping his character.

Then, several key Vikings offensive players suffered injuries, among them quarterback Warren Moon, running back Robert Smith and wide receiver Qadry Ismail. A team expected to contend for the NFC Central title has lost six of its past eight games after a 4-0 start.

And then, the Lou Holtz rumors began flying.

Holtz is a golfing buddy of Wheelock Whitney and Jaye Dyer, who are on the Vikings' 10-member ownership board. Whitney and Dyer, who befriended Holtz while he was coach at the University of Minnesota, took it upon themselves to ask Holtz what his availability is relative to the Vikings' head-coaching position.

In the meantime, Green is trying to hold it together and get his team into the playoffs.

``There's no doubt the distractions are difficult, and I didn't appreciate having some things written that probably had very little relevancy when we're trying to play football,'' said Green, whose team plays host to the Cardinals (6-6) today.

``I addressed it with the team when it first started. The most difficult time for us was two weeks ago. We were getting ready to play the Oakland Raiders and there was a lot swirling around about Lou Holtz leaving Notre Dame, which really didn't have any effect on Minnesota unless Lou Holtz was going to come and take my job. And that hasn't been the case.''

Vikings President Roger Headrick, in charge of day-to-day operations, is the man who hires and fires coaches. He was not amused by the freelance work done by Whitney and Dyer, especially considering that Headrick is a supporter of Green. So is board Chairman John C. Skoglund, who is no fan of Holtz. It is not known how the other six owners feel. Each of the 10 owns 10 percent of the team.

The board is scheduled to meet early in December in what no doubt will be a lively exchange.

``Anything that takes away from a football player's focus, or a coach's focus, is difficult,'' Green said. ``It's tough enough to win as it is. Look at our situation now. We're 6-6 like Arizona is, but we're both only one game behind Dallas and Philadelphia, and they've both been stumbling lately.

``I don't want us to be the only one of the four that has a bunch of things swirling around that have nothing to do with our ability to make the playoffs.''

Holtz told Minneapolis reporters that ``there is absolutely no truth to the speculation I've talked to the Vikings, or that I have a desire to go to the Vikings, or that the Vikings want me.''

But even Headrick acknowledges that it is likely that Whitney and Dyer acted on their own and talked to Holtz.

``You go through so many distractions, but that was one I really don't think we needed as players or coaches or as an organization,'' said Brad Johnson, who is expected to start at quarterback in place of Moon (ankle).

``Lou Holtz is a great coach, a legend for Notre Dame and college football, but Denny Green is our coach and the players are very loyal to him.''

Green is under contract through 1998. He has guided the Vikings to two divisional titles and won 11, 9, 10 and eight games coming into this season.

``I don't worry about ownership,'' Green said. ``Right from the start when I got here, we had 10 owners, and no head coach wants to deal with 10 owners. That's a coach's nightmare. But you have one guy, Roger Headrick, to deal with, and then it is his obligation to deal with the other owners.''

That said, Green turned his focus toward Arizona, which along with Carolina, is one of the hottest teams in the NFC.

``It doesn't matter if Green Bay is 9-3, or if Dallas is 7-5 if they're not playing well right now,'' Green said. ``You may have a good record, but if you're not playing good football when December rolls around, it doesn't take very much to drop out of the picture. I'm not pleased that we're 6-6. However, we're still in the hunt. Recognizing that gives you motivation.''
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 1, 1996
Words:746
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